Excerpts from his letters and speeches just before and after the Partition reveal his nuanced vision
GN Bureau | October 31, 2023
A Plain, Blunt Man: The Essential Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel
Edited by Urvish Kothari
Aleph, 328 pages, Rs 799
Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel was one of India’s most prominent founding fathers. A lifelong Gandhian and Congressman, he is remembered today for the major role he played in the country’s struggle for freedom, and during the tumultuous early years of the newly independent nation, the sagacity with which he dealt with the accession and integration of the princely states with the Indian union, the banning of the RSS after the assassination of Mahatma Gandhi, and the firmness with which he managed the breakdown of law and order after Partition. In the years after his death in 1950, his stature has only grown and many parties have tried to co-opt him to serve their political ends.
A man of unimpeachable integrity and firm convictions, Sardar Patel never shied away from stating his views on any issue no matter how contentious. This anthology brings together his key writing and thinking on a variety of subjects including the accession of princely kingdoms, Indian secularism, the need to protect the interests of minorities, his differences with Nehru, his reverence for Gandhi, his distaste for sectarian politics, his belief in the idea of a plural India, and much else besides.
The editor, Urvish Kothari, is a well-known Gujarati journalist, researcher and satirist with a keen interest in Gandhi, Patel, Ambedkar, Nehru, and the freedom movement of India. He did his PhD on the Hindu–Muslim relationship in Gandhi’s articles in the periodical ‘Navjivan’. He has written books in Gujarati on various subjects including one on Sardar Patel.
On the occasion of Sardar’s birth anniversary, here is an excerpt from the book:
I DO NOT THINK IT WILL BE POSSIBLE TO CONSIDER HINDUSTAN AS A HINDU STATE
Dear Brij Mohan,
I do not think it will be possible to consider Hindustan as a Hindu State with Hinduism as the State religion. We must not forget that there are other minorities whose protection is our primary responsibility. The State must exist for all, irrespective of caste or creed.
* * *
INDIA IS ONE AND INDIVISIBLE
…The Congress had pledged to rid the country of foreign domination; and, after making considerable sacrifices and bearing prolonged sufferings, it has now succeeded. But the Congress has also strived for United India and a union of all communities. Unfortunately, it could not lay claim to success on that count. This was due to factors beyond its control. Their joy on August 15 would have been fuller and greater had not India been divided!
I would make no efforts to explain away the responsibility of the Congress to divide the country. We took these extreme steps after great deliberation. In spite of my previous strong opposition to partition, I agreed to it because I was convinced that in order to keep India united it must be divided now.
My experience in office during the past year showed that it was impossible to do anything constructive with the Muslim League in. The League Representatives during their continuance in office did nothing but to create deadlocks and their role was entirely an obstructionist one. Besides, I found that the Muslims, save for a few exceptions, engaged in all capacities in the Government, were with the Muslim League. Thus the rot that had set in could not be permitted to prolong any longer except at the risk of a disaster for the whole country. Indeed, at one stage, things had become so bad that with the killings at Calcutta riots spread all over and it became a perilous adventure for Hindus and Muslims to visit one another’s localities. The economic life of the country was paralysed and there was little security of life or property.
The only way out of the sickening situation the Congress realized, lay in the elimination of the third party-the British Power. The British, on their part, declared that they would quit by June 1948. But the period was long. Also their Statement promising to hand over power to the authorities in the Provinces gave rise to a vigorous effort to dislodge the Ministries in Assam, the Punjab and the Frontier Province. The League succeeded in the Punjab. Even though they failed in the Frontier Province and Assam, the League movement caused great misery and bloodshed.
In order to settle the issue immediately and prevent the slaughter of innocent people, the Congress decided to agree to the division of the country and demanded the partition of the Punjab and Bengal. This was no surrender to the League threats or the policy of appeasement.
Today the partition of India is a settled fact and yet it is an unreal fact! I hope, however, that partition would remove the poison from the body politic of India….
India is one and indivisible. One cannot divide a sea or split the running waters of a river. The Muslims have their roots in India. Their sacred places and their cultural centres are located in India. I do not know what would they do in Pakistan and it would not be long when they would like to return.
Despite the division, it must be remembered, we have 80 per cent of the country with us which is a compact unit with great potentialities.
The main task before India today is to consolidate herself into a well-knit and united power….
The need of the hour is to increase the wealth of the country and this can only be done by putting in more and more work and thus increasing production. This necessitates preservation of peace in the country. For one year now, there has been disorder in the country. Now that Pakistan has been established, there should be no more fights between Hindus and Muslims. If, unfortunately, there would be a recurrence of strife, it would not be the cowardly killings of innocent people, but it would be between two armies of the two States….
India has nothing but goodwill towards all. But if her safety is endangered she must have strength to defend herself; and, for that, people must work hard.
Delhi, 11 August 1947
* * *
I WANT HINDUS AND MUSLIMS TO FORGET THE PAST
I have a special word of advice to say to Hindus and Muslims of Kathiawar. I recall how in the past Muslims of Kathiawar contributed to the League’s ‘Two-Nation Theory’ propaganda and how they took part in League politics. But I have forgotten the past which is dead and gone if only they will treat it as such. But if they still feel an attachment to the ‘Two-Nation Theory’ and look to an outside power, they have no place in Kathiawar.
It was to put an end to this dual loyalty that we agreed to create Pakistan so that those who preferred to abide in that faith can find a place where they can pursue it. In India, there is no place for such persons. If they stay in India, it can only be as loyal citizens; otherwise they have to be treated as foreigners with all the attendant disabilities. They should live in India like brothers and in harmony with non-Muslims.
I call upon Hindus to follow Mahatma Gandhi in his creed of non-violence. Recent disturbances have disgraced India in the eyes of the world and it is for us to win back our lost reputation by correct behaviour and noble conduct. At the same time I deplore the tendency to get panicky. If we have to die, we must die like brave men. As human beings with a sense of human dignity, we cannot die crying.
I want Hindus and Muslims to forget the past and to live happily together. To make it possible, let Muslims in India search their conscience and ascertain if they are really loyal to this country. If they are not, let them go to the country which claims their allegiance.
Rajkot, 12 November 1947
[The excerpt reproduced with the permission of the publishers.]
Governance Now had carried an excerpt from this book, presenting a biographical sketch of Patel. You can read it here: http://www.governancenow.com/news/books-ideas/how-gandhi-saw-sardar-a-largehearted-leader-accommodative-of-all-indians
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